This one won’t be that hard to predict, at least on the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton is toast. She needs a miracle to defeat Obama, and the ham-handed way she’s tried to come back have failed. Even though she’s right—even her paltry experience is infinitely more than Obama’s platitudes—the Democrats have embraced Obama’s gauzy rhetoric. Politically, it’s not a bad move. In terms of who can provide the Democrats with real leadership, Obama is a terrible candidate. However, he happens to have the right message at the right time, and that’s enough to win.
On the Republican side, I wouldn’t count Romney out quite yet. He did well in the debates, and McCain’s overtly combative side that we saw this weekend does not suit him well. The independent voters in New Hampshire will likely join the Obama juggernaut, which gives McCain less of an advantage. That being said, I think McCain will win. If McCain wins New Hampshire and Michigan, I don’t see how Romney can continue. Which is too bad, since I’m warming to him the more I hear.
Those two matchups are all that matter in this race. The rest of the candidates aren’t in the game in New Hampshire. Rudy and Fred are not campaigning there. (And Ron Paul isn’t going to get the nomination, even if he will pull some support in New Hampshire.) Edwards is a dead man walking, politically. He didn’t even pull the same support in Iowa he did in 2004. Huckabee will get some play in New Hampshire, but his brand of evangelical identity politics does not play well at all there.
For the Democrats, I don’t see any way that anyone can stop Obama now. It’s possible he could slip up, but the Clinton campaign has come off the rails in a way that I wouldn’t have expected. She’s never had to run a truly competitive race in her life (and neither has Obama), and she doesn’t know what to do. My guess is that Clinton will not go quietly. What’s amazing is that even her well-crafted spin machine can’t save her now.
The Republican field is still wide open. Romney is sinking, but he’s not out. McCain’s star is rising. Huckabee is still in the lead. Thompson is hanging on and betting the farm on a solid performance in South Carolina. Rudy could always come up from behind and surprise everyone if his strategy actually works. At this point a brokered convention isn’t out of the picture. There’s no real momentum yet for one candidate.
The big question is who goes out first. Right now, Romney looks like he’s going to lose steam before the others. If that happens, who gets his support? That’s why this race is so undecided—in a race divided by a few percentage points between the candidates a gain by one can propel someone ahead of the others. If Romney’s support goes to Thompson, Thompson ends up being in a vastly better position. If it goes to Huckabee, he’d be nearly impossible to beat. If it goes to McCain, McCain would have a strong chance of winning. If it gets split, then we’re still in a morass.
New Hampshire is proving to be somewhat anti-climactic, but that could change in the event that Hillary or Mitt stage a comeback. However, it’s looking like the Democratic race is becoming more firmly established just as the Republican one continues to be unsettled.